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Zicklin Professor Lauded for Adding Data Analytics to Accounting Curriculum

August 23, 2022

Brandon Lock, an assistant professor in the Zicklin School of Business’ Stan Ross Department of Accountancy, recently won a Zicklin Excellence and Innovation in Teaching award. “Brandon is known for using technology to foster student engagement,” says Donal Byard, professor and chair of the department, who nominated Prof. Lock for the award. “His masters-level class is wildly popular.”  

Brandon Lock, accounting professor

Prof. Lock sat down for an interview with Zicklin News.  

Zicklin News: Congratulations on winning this award. What was it for? 

Brandon Lock: Thank you. I’m very grateful to receive it. It was mainly for a new graduate-level course I developed called Data Analytics in Accounting, and also for my contributions towards redesigning the undergraduate accounting information systems course to incorporate more emphasis on data analytics.  

ZN: Tell us more about how this was innovative.  

BL: Previously, accounting students could only take data analytics courses taught by other departments, such as the Computer Information Systems (CIS) or Statistics departments. By incorporating it into my courses, I’m showing students how data analytics applies to accounting and auditing.   

ZN: What was your motivation for doing this? 

BL: One important reason is to prepare students for big changes that are coming to the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam, which will start including more emphasis on data analytics. There is also growing demand from recruiters for accounting candidates with data analytics skills, and consequently students want to know how they can apply data analytics tools to accounting.  

ZN: Give us an example of how you use data analytics in the classroom.  

BL: I have student teams do guided, open-ended projects that use data science. They find a public data set related to a business, organizational, or accounting problem, ask a business question, and answer it using data analytics. Then they present their work in class. Students have produced great projects on, for example, the implications of proposed congestion pricing in Manhattan by using street-level traffic data — available on the City of New York website — to study its effect. Another project looked at climate gentrification, which refers to the relationship between gentrification and climate change. Students looked at the relationship between the rise in sea levels in certain coastal regions and housing prices. They showed that in recent years, higher-elevation cities experienced greater increases in per capita income and housing prices than lower elevation cities, consistent with these higher cities becoming less affordable and forcing lower-income populations to move to areas more susceptible to flooding and other climate-related disasters.  

ZN: Why is it important for accounting students to understand data analytics?  

BL: The accounting field is changing rapidly and new technologies like AI and Big Data sources have made data analytics critical to the work of accountants and auditors. We often hear from the accounting firms that incoming recruits aren’t well enough prepared to deal with real-world data sets and uncertainty because they’re used to working with structured scenarios that have well-defined solutions. Often in data analytics, you have to work with data sets of uncertain integrity and answer complex questions. Studying the field helps students learn to navigate situations where you don’t always have clear-cut answers. This prepares them for the modern, rapidly changing work environment, which is rife with uncertainty, but also presents new opportunities for those with the ability to leverage new technologies to their advantage.